Vash the Stampede is the man with a $60,000,000,000 bounty on his head. The reason: he’s a merciless villain who lays waste to all those that oppose him and flattens entire cities for fun, garnering him the title “the Humanoid Typhoon.” He leaves a trail of death and destruction wherever he goes, and anyone can count themselves dead if they so much as make eye contact with him — or so the rumors say. In actuality, Vash is a huge softie who claims to have never taken a life and avoids violence at all costs. With his crazy doughnut obsession and buffoonish attitude in tow, Vash traverses the wasteland of the planet Gunsmoke, all the while followed by two insurance agents, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who attempt to minimize his impact on the public. But soon their misadventures evolve into life-or-death situations as a group of legendary assassins are summoned to bring suffering to the trio. Vash’s agonizing past will be unraveled and his morality and principles pushed to the breaking point.
Trigun is a 26-episode anime from 1998 (TWENTY YEARS AGO) and is one of the definitive examples of the “Space Western” sub-genre that gained popularity in Japan in the late 1990s and in the United States in the early 2000s with Joss Whedon’s Firefly. It takes place on a mostly desert planet called “Gunsmoke” where a colony ship crashed a little over a century before the story begins. The technology on this planet could only be described as Steam Punk to the extreme. Trigun not only tells a fun and, at times, moving story, but brilliantly pays homage to the great Westerns of old. For example, in one of the first episodes there is a quite lengthy shot of an old creaking windmill; this is a direct reference to a famous scene from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. In another episode the characters walk down the dusty street into a ghost town with scared civilians slamming their shudders to hide. This is yet another Sergio Leone reference. I could go on, but there are too many of these to list.
Trigun starts out with zany action of the shonen variety and later gets significantly darker and more serious, becoming more seinen if anything. The manga also made the transition from being published in a shonen magazine to a seinen demographic magazine, but the manga actually ran from 1996 to 2008. The anime did this heavy transition in just twenty-six episodes. After meeting the insurance girls and going on a few largely episodic adventures, Vash reveals his dark past and must confront his maniacal brother Knives and Knives’ frightening, nihilistic minion Legato Bluesummers. I won’t spoil anything, but know that this series will take you on quite a ride.
The characters are fleshed out well and truly make the viewers care about them and want to know them better. Vash (French for cow), despite being the world’s most wanted man, has never actually killed anyone and is a devout pacifist. However, destruction and massive property damage seem to follow him whereever he goes. Vash prefers to run rather than fight and doesn’t use his gun unless he absolutely needs to. He will also at times spontaneously start babbling in French. Vash is easily the greatest French superhero in the history of comics; his humanistic ideology is the product of his being raised by an idealistic dreamer named Rem. (Yes, that is the name of the brain waves that occur during dreaming; Trigun has lots of name puns.) Vash’s brother Knives was also raised by Rem, but rejected her teachings and believes that humans are worthless vermin that destroy the environment of every planet they inhabit. Knives wishes to wipe out all humans in order to save the various animal and plant life of Gunsmoke. We are also introduced to badass Catholic priest Wolfwood and his giant gun shaped like a cross. Did I mention Trigun gets very silly at times? Wolfwood doesn’t follow any of the clergy rules, smoking, drinking, womanizing, and having little aversion to killing whenever threatened. However, he has his own strong sense of justice and is a loyal ally.
Trigun has an excellent jazz soundtrack with plenty to offer for lovers of the Sax. Hell, there is even a villain that uses a saxophone as his primary weapon in a later episode. Some of the tracks are heavily influenced by the Spaghetti Westerns Trigun obviously loves and often emulates. The soundtrack will get your adrenaline flowing and put you in the mood to see a ridiculous gunfight. The animation is very well drawn for a 1990s anime, and has aged quite nicely. The stereotype for 90s and especially 80s anime is that it uses key frames, recycled animation, barely animated lip flaps; suffers from a very low frame per second rate; and is in general both lazily and cheaply animated. This was the time before Japan followed the Americans and exported all the animation to Korea. Trigun is a shining example of 90s anime art that shows that not everything from that period was absurdly lethargic.
To sum up, Trigun is an absolute blast from the past and will leave you wanting twenty-six more episodes. The well written story, fun characters, fluid animation and epic gunfights all come together to make this my favorite Space Western of all time. Yes, I actually like Trigun more than Firefly; you can post your hate comments on my wall if you absolutely have to. I loved this series when I was 15, I love it at 24, and I will love it until I am dead and rotting in the ground. All-in-all, this is one of my favorite animes of all time. There are a couple series that barely edge out Trigun, but not many. If you haven’t seen Trigun yet, I would highly recommend it. If you see a few episodes and just absolutely hate it, you don’t have to watch the whole thing. However, it is a series that absolutely everyone should at least try.